Optimism about the future of South Africa has dropped sharply (by 19%) among the country’s youth, who express more cynicism about politics, governance and the future direction of the country, than their counterparts in most countries across the continent. The only other countries that experienced sharper declines in optimism were Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia. Looking ahead, only 25% of South Africa’s young people are hopeful about the future being better – seven points below the African average.
These and other findings from the African Youth Survey’s South Africa Country Report were announced during a high-level dialogue, entitled, ‘My Africa, My Century’, held in Johannesburg. Convening pioneering youth entrepreneurs and changemakers, the event was hosted by the commissioners of the annual African Youth Survey, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, alongside former South African President, Kgalema Motlanthe and the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation and Chido Mpemba, Special Envoy on Youth to the African Union (AU) Chairperson and Cabinet.
Key findings include:
On track with their counterparts across the continent, only 28% of South African youth see their country going in the right direction, versus the 63% who say the country is moving in the wrong direction (slightly lower than the 68% African average). Compared with the 2019 AYS benchmark survey, this reflects a 19% decrease in optimism among South Africans (versus 11% continent-wide).
Despite Greenpeace labeling the current water scarcity situation in South Africa as a crisis and suggesting that the present state of the country’s water pollution now impacts its public health, concern for climate change among South African youth is lower than that of the rest of the continent – just three-in-five express concern and there is also less concern for climate change-related issues, such as an increase in pollution and environmental destruction.
Trust In Leadership
South African youth are much less trustful of all leaders than the rest of the continent’s youth, with only religious leaders trusted by a majority – Local community leaders and organisations are seen as the biggest drivers of positive change, while national leaders are seen less positively.
Delivering On Data
Two-thirds of youth find the price of mobile data coverage to be high, and just one-in-ten can afford data coverage at all times – Still, data coverage is more affordable in South Africa than the rest of the continent.
COVID-19 And The Threat Of Infectious Disease
Again on track with African youth broadly, 45% of young people suggest that the threat of death from disease had the greatest impact on Africa over the last five years. The impact of COVID-19 was severe, 33% polled suggested they had to pause or stop their schooling outright, with 17% reporting that they had lost their jobs.
Across the board, South African youth are significantly more likely (40%) than their counterparts on the continent (28%) to say that foreign powers are drivers of negative change in their country. 67% of South Africans are concerned about foreign influence; 79% further suggest that foreign companies have taken advantage of their country’s resources, without benefiting South Africa’s citizenry.
Security And Terrorism
Almost half of South African youth voice concern about the threat of terrorism (48%) and two-thirds are concerned with present political instability (65%); 35% of South African youth are dissatisfied with their country’s police and security services.
Meeting The Potential Of A ‘Start Up’ Rainbow Nation
63% of young South Africans polled plan to start a business within the next five years, the lowest percentage however when reflected across the continent. Barriers to taking forward their entrepreneurial endeavors include lack of access to start-up capital (52%), too much corruption (45%) and presently too much government regulation (33%).
Addressing Discrimination And The Promise Of Equal Rights
Over half of South African youth disagree that everyone is equal before the law in their country, a finding slightly higher than youth polled across the continent. 83% are concerned about the lack of protection for women’s rights, for example, 82% suggest that the country must do more to protect ethnic minorities and 62% state that their country must also do more to protect the LGBTQ+ community. However, 44% of youth believe that refugees have a negative impact on their country, markedly the country with the highest percentage who agreed with that statement when compared across the continent.
15% of South African youth polled ultimately suggest that they are likely to consider emigrating within the next three years, with Europe being the most likely destination. This figure is much lower than the continental average of 52% of youth stating that they want to emigrate in the next three years. South Africa is the most appealing destination on the continent for emigration.
Conducted across 15 African countries – Angola, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia – by leading global polling firm, PSB Insights, comprising more than 4,500 face-to-face interviews, the ‘AYS’ has become the most comprehensive research programme for understanding the opinions and ambitions of Africa’s rising generation. Conducted over two waves in 2019 and 2021, the survey has interviewed more than 9,000 young people in 19 countries.
“Our second annual African Youth Survey offers a comprehensive measure of the realities seen and aspirations shared by young people across the continent. With South Africa in focus, it is important to recognise that our youth have only known a post-Apartheid state, one offering contemporary rights and freedoms; because of this, they can be more discerning in their demands for trust in government and for even greater protections and our findings indicate that they are truly sounding an alarm,” stated Ichikowitz Foundation Founder and Executive Chairman, Ivor Ichikowitz, adding that, “It is fitting that we meet today in South Africa to address the concerns of our next generation, take stock of where we are, so that in deliberating on potential solutions to their problems, we can help pave the road to our shared future”.
South Africa’s young people further suggest that the priorities for Africa to progress lie within its government’s ability to create new, well-paying jobs (deemed the most important issue by 30%), reducing government corruption (25%), increasing access to basic needs and services (17%) and modernising the education system (16%).
Yet despite being a top priority, three-quarters of South African youth polled are dissatisfied with their government’s performance on addressing job creation opportunities and tackling unemployment. 42% reported that they were “not satisfied at all” with their country’s performance, although a finding slightly below the African average (46%).
The findings in context, the ‘My Africa, My Century’ dialogue in Johannesburg will follow a specialised process that will result in policy recommendations with clear deliverables and measures of success.
Former President Motlanthe stated that “South Africans have long emblemized the triumph of the human spirit and the power inherent in forging new beginnings, proven to resonate across the country and around the world. Out of the ashes of longstanding injustice and inequality in South Africa, we see today an outspoken generation borne from the yolk of the ending of Apartheid. It is vital for leaders present and future to listen to the voices of our young people, those that embody the art of the possible and if enabled, will go on to build the infrastructure which will continue to propel our country forward and to the forefront of the global marketplace. What’s clear is that South Africa’s next generation will importantly do so with 2022-era diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind, indeed the tenets of a true and modern democracy, revitalising our nation in the process”.
About the Ichikowitz Family Foundation
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation is founded upon the belief that Africa’s potential can be unlocked through education, the respect for human rights, a better understanding of Africa’s dynamic history and the conservation of its rich biodiversity. It is committed to the kind of active citizenship that promotes the preservation of Africa’s heritage, the conservation of its environment, and the empowerment of Africa’s youth. The Foundation uses various channels such as films, music, research, publications, and art to foster dialogue between people, to be a torchbearer for innovation and to build a continent where people are encouraged to dream big and achieve the impossible. Key programmes include: the African Oral History Archive, the African Youth Survey, #IamConstitution and the protection of endangered species.